The power of music
Jimi Hendrix said that music is a spiritual thing. Sadly, the spirits that influenced his music were not from God despite his upbringing and his talent. However, he was right. The first reference to music in the Bible is Genesis 4:21: “And his brother's name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.” Jubal was the seventh descendant of Adam through Cain. Some people think that Ezekiel 28:13 says that Satan was created with musical instruments which he originally used to be the worship leader in heaven, and that since his fall he now misuses that musical gift for evil. While music which is written strictly for the entertainment for the carnal nature of man can have bad influence, and there is certainly music which is evil in its spiritual origin and influence, this passage is actually talking about the king of the city of Tyre (vs 12). Some people try to support their interpretation by saying that this is talking about the spiritual king of Tyre, the devil, and not the human one. There are several problems with this interpretation, which will briefly be touched on here.
The original Bible did not have chapters and verses, so each book was one continuous scroll. Ezekiel 28 is a direct continuation of chapter 27 which is about t he king of Tyre (vs 2). That is the context. Ezekiel 28:2 says this passage is about the prince of Tyre. The word prince has the same meaning as king in verse 12. Verses 2-6 directly parallel Isaiah 14:13-14 which is about the king of Babylon. Verse 2 says, “thou art a man, and not God, though thou set thine heart as the heart of God”. That is the point of the passage. Verse 3 uses the same sarcasm as Isaiah 14:12. Verse 7 says God will bring nations against him. Verse 8 parallels Isaiah 14:15. Verses 9-10 say he is a man and will die. Some say the subject changes in verses 12-16 from the king of Tyre to the devil, but verse 12 again says this is about the king of Tyre. Since Satan is a spirit, how did he have various jewels of the earth in him in heaven before he fell (vs 13)? Verse 17 says God will bring the subject of this passage to the ground and kings will see him. Satan is an invisible spirit. Verse 18 says God will bring the subject to ashes upon the earth. Verse 19 says the subject will never be any more. Satan will continue to exist even after the final judgment (Rev 20:10). When judgment came to Tyre, it was cast to the ground in ashes and ceased to exist. Ezekiel 28 continues in verses 20-23 with judgment against Sidon, which was the sister city to Tyre. Ezekiel 29 speaks symbolically of Egypt as a dragon. The Bible also describes the devil as a dragon (Rev 12), but that does not mean this chapter is not talking about Egypt. Ezekiel 31 uses some the same sarcastic symbolism about Egypt as Ezekiel 28 does about Tyre (verses 8-9, 16, & 18). The surrounding chapters of Ezekiel are also speaking about judgment on other nations. Therefore, the plain reading of the passage of Ezekiel 27-28 in context shows it is speaking of the king and city of Tyre, not Satan, although it uses sarcastic language which would seem to indicate it is talking about another subject.
Following the same principles for Isaiah 14 shows it is about the king of Babylon. Verse 4 says so. Verse 11 describes the subject of this passage rotting in the grave. Some say the subject changes in verses 12-16 because verse 12 mentions Lucifer. This name only appears in this verse and means morning star, which interestingly is a title relating to Jesus Christ (Mal 4:2, 2Pet 1:19, Rev 2:28, Rev 22:16). According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament edited by R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, the use of this word in Isaiah 14:12 is a reference to the king of Babylon. Isaiah 14:16 says the subject is a man. Verses 18-20 compare hm to other kings and speak of his dead body and burial. Verse 22 again says this passage is speaking of the judgment of Babylon. The most we have in Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 are possible dual references to these two kings and the devil based on Lk 10:18, Heb 2:2, 2Pet 2:4, Jude 6, and Rev 12:7-9. This happens in other passages, but we cannot ignore the plain reading, context, and information clearly given in the passage. It is not good exegesis to pick out which parts of a passage fit our interpretation and ignore those that do not, or to pick which parts are literal and which are symbolic in a way that suits what we want them to mean without any other solid basis.
The reason this is important to the subject of music is the interpretation some give to Ezekiel 28:13 as it relates to music. They say music originated with the devil. They say there were originally three archangels in heaven which led three groups of angels. They say Lucifer was the leader of the worshipping angels, Michael was the leader of the warrior angels, and Gabriel was the leader of the messenger angels. They say this was the state of things before Satan and his angels fell. While the Bible does describe Michael in a warrior role and Gabriel in a messenger role, there are several problems with this teaching. First, before Satan fell, who was Michael fighting and who was Gabriel delivering messages to? Second Ezekiel 28:13 is talking about the king of Tyre and his city. Third, all angels are worshippers (Ps 148:2, Heb 1:6, Rev 7:11-12). Michael took a message to Daniel (Dan 10). The word angel means messenger. They are all messengers. Rev 12:4 says the devil took 1/3 of the angels with him when he fell, but the Bible says nothing about 1/3 being warriors, and 1/3 being messengers. Also, the only two places the Bible refers to an archangel are 1Thessalonians 4:13 and Jude 9 which speaks of Michael. Michael is also called one of the chief princes (Dan 10:13) and the great prince (Dan 12:1). Angels are all ministering spirits (Heb 1:14). There is much false doctrine in the world about angels, and we should be careful not to speak of things which we do not know about (Jude 10), and “worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind (Col 2:18).” Let us speak what the Bible does say, and not insert things which are not actually there (Deut 4:2, Prov 30:5-6, Rev 22:18-19).
Therefore, music did not originate with the devil, and it is not inherently evil in its nature. Job 38:7 is an interesting scripture which may give us some information on the origin of music: “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” This is talking about something that occurred during Genesis 1 when God was creating everything (Job 38:1-6). The phrase morning stars could refer to the literal stars which God made on the fourth day. Psalm 148:3 says, “Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light”. The word star is also used to symbolize Abraham’s numerous descendants (Gen 15:5, Gen 22:17, etc.), Joseph’s brothers (Gen 37:9), Messiah (Num 24:7), the righteous (Dan 12:3), false teachers (Jude 13), and pastors (Rev 1:13). The phrase sons of God can also mean several things. It can mean the descendants of Seth (Gen 6:2-4), angels (Job 1:6, Job 2:1), and Christians (Jn 1:12, Rom 8:14 & 19, Phil 2:15, 1Jn 3:1-2). In Job 38:7, it is probably referring to angels since the descendants of Seth and Christians did not exist yet. We do not have any other Biblical reason to think that the phrase sons of God would refer to literal stars. Therefore, it seems most likely that this verse is speaking of angels and would therefore be the first reference chronologically to singing. This would have occurred when God was laying the foundation of the earth some time during the creation week.
The highest purpose of anything is when it is for the glory of God. Everything was created for His pleasure (Rev 4:11). Music can be used for many purposes because it is powerful whether it is used for God or not. However, its highest purpose is the worship of God. There is surprisingly little in the Bible about music being used for the worship of God before and after David and other than the Psalms (Ex 15, Deut 31, Jud 5, 1Sam 10, 1Ki 10:12, 2Chr 5, 2Chr 7:6, 2Chr 20, 2Chr 29-30, 2Chr 31, 2Chr 34-35, Ezra 2-3 & 7, Neh 10-13, Is 26:1, Is 36:30, Hab 3:19), especially in the New Testament (Mk 14:26, Acts 16:25-26, Eph 5:18-20, Col 3:16, Rev 5:8, Rev 14-15). However, there is no reason to believe music was not part of the practice of the early church, although there are not many references to it.
Music styles change with culture. There are many types of music. Some are more virtuous than others spiritually and musically. Each generation tends to view the most popular styles of the day of their youth fondly and frown upon new styles of the younger generation. Generations tend to think things were better in their youth than the current situations. Although there has definitely been a downward trend the last few generations in many areas, there have also been gains in others. Although there is much negativity about the current state of affairs, and not without merit, we should also celebrate the good things. Lifespans are longer, less people are in poverty and severe oppression, less people are dying in war, technological advances have made life better in many ways, etc. It seems hard to believe, but it is true at this time. Music both influences culture and reflects it. As such, it can be used as a barometer of society, especially of youth who generally put much more emphasis on music than older people. As Solomon said of the elderly, “all the daughters of musick shall be brought low (Ecc 12:4)”. Young people often have a constant stream of music in their lives, even if it is just as background noise. They like it louder than older people, and they like different styles. This does not mean one generation is automatically better than the other, but there are normal differences. However, based on the general societal trend downward in some areas, there is value in examining whether or not current trends in music are also not only different than before, but also heading downward.
The World War I generation was horrified at the trends in society and music in the 20s with early forms of jazz with its flappers and bobbed haircuts. The World War II generation was horrified at the onset of rock and roll in the 50s, and then its progression in the 60s and 70s. Then came disco, punk, and heavy metal in the late 70s followed by rap in the 80s. Music also became more electronic. Rap then became hip-hop in the 90s. In the 2000s and 2010s there were not really any major new styles introduced. Rather there were modifications of styles and “changes of the guard” on who was the most popular. This is not a thorough examination of all sub-genres or developments of mainstream popular music, just an example of trends.
There has been some version of “pop” music for many decades. Pop is simply short for popular. What was pop at one time is now called “classics”. The following statements are not just a bemoaning of one generation against another. If there is any validity to them, they should not be summarily dismissed because of generational gaps. Truth is truth. Pop music has always been relatively simple both in lyrics and melody. There are exceptions as always, and sometimes songs with depth of both words and music have made it to the top 40. There is a place for such music in society, but here the discussion is about trends and the influence and reflection of music. Has music generally gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse? This author proposes it has gotten worse in words and music, and in influence and reflection. Music has become too oversimplified, homogenized, and commercialized. As stated, these elements are not brand new, but seem to have become the overwhelming mainstay. The secular government run schools are like pop music in that they both influence and reflect society. In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court in Engel v. Vital ruled that it is unconstitutional for public schools to compose official prayers and have students recite them. The next year it ruled in Schempp v. School District of Abington that public schools could not do official readings of the Bible. Neither of these rulings properly enforced the first amendment but twisted its meaning backwards. For example, there is no phrase “separation of church and state” in the U.S. Constitution. Also, the meanings of these rulings have been greatly misapplied for decades. The very next year, 1964, is when public school performance in the U.S. began to decline, and despite numerous attempts to “reform” them and the ever-increasing amounts of money spent on them, they continue to flounder towards the bottom of the industrialized world. There has been a congruous dumbing down of society which is no coincidence. The Humanist Manifesto clearly declares the intent of the atheistic humanists to control the public schools and turn them into indoctrination centers for student “lemmings” which will lead to the secularization of America and the failure to transmit its founding values and ideals to the generations of today and tomorrow. We can watch videos of young adults being interviewed on the street and being asked very basic questions that they cannot answer. Some of them have college degrees. People laugh at them, but it is not funny at all. This is being reflected in music.
Pop music has become devoid of value. There are a few writers and producers of pop music that control the whole industry. Performers do not usually write their own material. The performers may have great musical ability, but they must conform to what sells. That is why it mostly all sounds the same. The same shallow themes, the same patterns, and the same few simple chords and beats are repeated over and over. Also, many performers are pushing a spiritual, societal, and political agenda in a conscious effort to influence society a certain way. Once in a while, a performer pushes it too far and receives some momentary backlash, only to rise again shortly after like nothing ever happened.
Christians should rise above the trends of the world, but sadly they often follow the same direction whether they even realize it or not. Christians also have their pop music and pop stars. It has become increasingly difficult to discern any difference musically between secular pop and Christian pop. Christian pop has also become oversimplified, homogenized, and commercialized. There are videos by Christian commentators skewing this trend, and although they use humor, the topic is a serious one. “Just sing about wind, fire, and water, and you have a hit.” Just play these three chords and use these musical gimmicks, and you have a hit.” Have Christians too become dumbed down, Biblically illiterate, ignorant of the influence on their society, and happy to just enjoy the catchy, simple music and melody of Christian pop with their heads in the sand? Read the lyrics of Christian songs from generations ago. Were there some simple tunes? Of course, but the depth of meaning was also prevalent. Was there some repetition? Of course, but it was not a mainstay, and it did not go on endlessly. I was given a song to listen to not long ago, and it contained one sentence repeated for nine minutes straight.
It is understood that to some degree we can use the material and to some degree ignore the source, but is there a line in the sand where too far is just too far? Two of the biggest producers of Christian pop are Bethel and Hillsong, and all those connected to them which is many. Not only have they fully embraced these musical trends and are a main part of their propagation, they have diverted drastically from the Bible. Bethel practices paganism and witchcraft. They have a school which costs thousands to attend where people can “learn” to perform miracles. Hillsong embraces Chrislam, a merging of Christianity and Islam, and sodomy. They have pagan celebrations with mostly naked people on stage such as the “naked cowboy”. The center of their Christmas celebration is not Jesus Christ. It is the pagan goddess which in the Bible goes by such names as Ashtoreth, Diana, and the queen of heaven. That is too far. That is more than enough cause to “boycott” their music. Do we think that their music has no spiritual impact on those who listen to and use it? At least secular music doesn’t pretend to be Christian for the most part. Some lyrics of Christian music are doctrinally incorrect. We are supposedly worshipping the God of the Bible but contradicting His written word. There is some room in music for artistic license with grammar and such, although it should not be the norm; but there should be no room for doctrinal errors.
Another trend which also reflects where Christianity is in error is that the lyrics say, “It's all about me, not God. God is my servant, not I am here to do His will.” Even songs that appear to be worshipping God and giving Him glory are really just saying that God is here to meet my needs. What happened to, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Mt 6:33)”? God is not Santa Claus. His job is not to give out free stuff with no responsibility attached, but that theme has crept from the world into the church and its music. God’s responsibility is not to make sure we feel good or that what we think are our needs are met to our satisfaction. He is only obligated to His word. As we honor His word, He can honor us.